The Contract Cocktail: Adding the Right Ingredients

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not the biggest drinker you’ll ever meet. I’m a social drinker. In particular, I like having a nice glass of red while eating a good meal. However, there’s something to be said for a well-crafted cocktail. For one thing, they’re cool. I mean, if James Bond is a fan, who am I to argue?

A traditional cocktail is a mixture of spirits (alcohol), sugar, water, and bitters. Add a little ice and a bit of garnish and you’ll have Don Draper’s favorite drink; an Old Fashioned – argued to be the “original” cocktail. It’s a mixology classic.

In business, there’s nothing more “classic” than a contract. It’s a business staple; and, like an Old Fashioned, it requires six ingredients – carefully mixed! – to truly make it shine.

1. Sugar: The Scope of the Work

Working on a project you love can be sweet. However, just like a cocktail, if you don’t measure the right amount of sugar, you risk adding too much, and no one likes a drink that’s too sweet – or a project that’s undefined and growing out of control. Measure the “sugar” of your project carefully.

State the exact amount of work you’ll be doing for your client. Define the scope of the project in your contract down to the last minute grain of effort you’re to be exerting. As an employee, you may have been expected to give “110%” in order to get by. When you work for yourself, you get to define exactly what percentage of the work you’ll be doing. But you have to be clear.

2. Water: The Client’s Responsibilities

Water, although essential to the mixture, is used sparingly in Old Fashioned cocktails. Similarly, your client’s responsibilities will likely be few. But they’re still an important ingredient in the contract mixture.

Does your client need to provide you with certain information or materials before you can begin working? Will they be giving you access to their website’s backend? Private files?

Write down everything that you need, and expect, from your client. This project is your drink, but your client needs to know exactly how much “water” (input/passwords/etc.) you need from them.

3. Ice: Payment Terms

Just like ice can transform a lukewarm cocktail into a refreshing beverage, cold hard cash can turn a hobby into a profession. If you’re providing services for someone, you deserve payment for that work.

State in writing the amount you expect to be paid, and when that payment is due. If you expect to be paid up front (whether in full or a percentage of the total), say so. Also, if you charge a fee for late payments, you’ll need to make a note of how much you’ll charge; as well as what qualifies as “late” (a day? a week? a month?).

And be sure to specify the method of payment (PayPal, Stripe, check, money order) you wish to be paid with, as well as what currency. There’s nothing quite like being paid in yen when you were expecting dollars! Never, ever assume that your client knows how you want to be paid; especially if you’re working for them remotely.

Keep in mind that wait times and payment procedures tend to be longer and more complex the larger the company is that’s hired you. Don’t get “iced out” by sending your invoice to the wrong department — or by not following up on late payers.

4. Bitters: Due Dates

Deadlines won’t always leave the nicest taste in your mouth, but they’re an essential ingredient to any good contract. When is your project due? Are your services to be ongoing or performed just once? What will happen to you if you miss the agreed-upon deadline? (Is there a grace period, or will your client take it out of your pay immediately?).

Make sure you know what’s due and when. And how you’re to deliver the finished product. Meeting all your deadlines will be pointless if you’re unclear on how you’re to get the work to your client. (Note: remember to account for shipping costs in your payment terms should any of your work require a physical delivery method).

5. Garnish: Revisions and Ongoing Support

Garnishes such as orange peels or cherries are optional and won’t always appear in your cocktail. Likewise, revisions and ongoing support won’t always be necessary and; therefore, won’t always appear on your contract.

Before writing up your contract, analyze the project you’re to be working on. If you’re a writer, consider the possibility that your client may need rewrites or revisions. How many will you allow before you start charging extra? If you’re a programmer or website developer, will your client need additional tech support? How many times can they call on you for maintenance?

Also take into account any long meetings/phone calls/e-mails/hand-holding you may have to do.

6. Spirits: Signatures

Signatures are the spirits of your contract. Yes, you can make a cocktail without alcohol – and it will look the same, and it will almost taste the same – but it won’t get the job done. Likewise, a contract without signatures doesn’t qualify as a legal/binding document.

Get your contract signed. It protects both you and your client by ensuring that you get paid and your client gets what they paid for. If your client refuses to sign your contract, ask why. If they’re holding back because other aspects of the contract aren’t to their taste (Too little sugar? Too much water?) then attempt to remix the contract with fresh ingredients and serve it again. However, if the client still refuses to sign your contract even after you’ve negotiated, then this is likely someone you should avoid doing business with.

Serve it with Style!

Presentation is everything when it comes to a memorable cocktail. Whether it’s being served in a fancy glass, if it’s been set on fire, or if the bartender themselves just so happens to be skilled in the art of flairtending.

A memorable, professional contract has much to do with presentation as well. Whether you choose to use a ready-made template, or create your contract from scratch, take the time to think about how it will reflect your brand as a whole.

Double-check your contract for typos. Not only will additional proofreading guarantee your contract’s text looks as professional as possible, it will also ensure – by virtue of accurate drafting – that you’ll be paid on time and for the correct amount of work. In this case, it literally pays to triple-check your information before sending to your client for their signature.

Aesthetically, you should do everything possible to make your contract look great. Even if all of your ingredients are fresh and mixed perfectly, you won’t be impressing anyone if you serve your cocktail in a dirty glass. The same principle applies to your contract — use it as a branding opportunity and add in your logo, or top it with a professional header image.

Also: serve what your client ordered. If you went into a bar for a single martini, but found yourself charged for a bottle of champagne, you’d be upset, right? Likewise, one of the quickest ways to piss off a client is to add on hidden fees or previously undiscussed charges. If you’ve been talking with your client about what they need and expect, they’re going to trust you to follow through on it. Many clients won’t even read your final contract once you send it to them. They’ll take a look at the overall presentation and then sign. But that’s no reason to poison their drink.

Serving up the perfect contract takes practice. But, soon you’ll be flairing with the best of them. And remember, if you get a super spy for a client, serve up that contract shaken, not stirred.

Image by elvinstar

About Tom Ewer


Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.

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